Is Taking Zinc for Colds Effective?

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Achoo! You can feel the unpleasant beginnings of a cold coming on, and you have big plans for the weekend. You’ve heard that taking zinc supplements helps to ward off cold symptoms if you take them early. So you dutifully pop zinc lozenges into your mouth in hopes of nixing the cold bug before it gains a foothold in your body. Are you doing the right thing or wasting your time? Does taking zinc for colds really help?

Zinc and the Common Cold: The Good News

A recent review looking at zinc and the common cold carried out by the Cochrane Library, an esteemed source for evidence-based medicine sheds light on this issue. They looked at 15 studies involving over 1,300 people. After reviewing the data, they concluded that taking zinc supplements as lozenges within the first 24 hours reduces the severity of cold symptoms and how long the symptoms last. But the difference isn’t dramatic. Taking zinc lozenges at the first sign of a cold shortens its duration by only a day.

Whether taking zinc lozenges helps with colds has long been an area of debate. Some previous studies have shown benefits while others haven’t. But recent randomized, controlled studies show zinc lozenges are mildly effective at shortening cold severity and duration. Zinc lozenges for the common cold work, but the results aren’t dramatic – and you have to take them early – at the first sign of a runny nose or sore throat.

Zinc for Colds: The Bad News

There’s bad news about taking zinc lozenges when you have a cold. They cause nausea and leave a bad taste in your mouth – and if you use zinc nasal sprays, it can lead to permanent loss of smell. The question is whether it’s worth these unpleasant side-effects to shorten the duration of a cold by a day. Too much zinc can also interfere with the absorption of other minerals, especially copper, although this is unlikely to occur from taking zinc lozenges for a few days.

Zinc and the Common Cold: The Bottom Line?

Taking zinc supplements as a lozenge at the first sign of a cold shortens its duration by a day or so, but zinc lozenges aren’t easy to tolerate due to the nausea. If you want to try zinc, stay away from zinc nasal sprays due to the risk of permanent loss of smell.

References: “Zinc Reduces the Burden of the Common Cold’

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